In early February 1990, I left London for the long trip to Bangkok, after spending a few days in Delhi with my friend Clare and her aunt. It was usual for a flight to stop in at least one country before reaching Thailand, so I chose India. Soon I said goodbye to Clare and went to the airport. I had a purple suit on, so the other passengers thought I was with Thai Airways.
After waiting for two hours, we were told the flight arriving had a problem, and we would not leave Delhi that night. Ground staff gave us hotel vouchers for two per room and told us to match with other passengers. As it turned out, I shared the room with a young male Indian Fijian. Probably nowadays you wouldn't be allowed to share rooms like that, or you would have insisted on one room per person!
I was moving to Thailand to be with Ian, who was working as a roads engineer, back when they built all the expressways here. I was so happy to see him when I arrived. We stayed at the Rich Inn on Sukhumvit 53. Back then, there was a shortage of accommodations for foreigners looking for apartments and houses in the Sukhumvit area. I remember the walls moving with the thunder of traffic that went on all night.
I signed on for some classes at the AUA (a Thai language school where you learn by listening to people speak), and Ian had bought me some learn-about-Thai-culture books. I visited one or two NGOs, and I stayed busy at the weekends exploring the city. One week I even visited Kanchanaburi.
During that first year I think I became quite down. One Monday morning, it hit me, "What was I doing here in Bangkok"? I guessed the honeymoon was over, and it hit me that everything was so different here. I got really overwhelmed, looking at what I had done, coming to this strange place. Surprisingly, though I thought maybe Hong Kong or Singapore would be easier places to practise as a doctor, I never once thought of leaving and going back to the UK.
I had written to several health NGOs before I left. My colleague Ann gave me information on which organisations to write to, like the Thai Planned Parenthood Association. I did get one reply back from Dr Jumroon Mikanarom with the ASIN (a public health organisation). He said they would hire me, although they weren't sure how to manage this since they had never had a foreigner before. ASIN was in deepest Talingchan (an outlying district of western Bangkok), actually on the main road close to the local police station
I turned up at their headquarters, taking ages to get there on two bus journeys. Dr Jumroon offered to send a minibus to come and collect me at one point. They wanted me to write reports, but I couldn't do it. As a doctor, I dictated my notes into a machine for someone else to type up. I didn't even know how to make the goals and objectives, but they soon taught me how to do it. My first meeting was with some leading health experts on World Population Day. Does it even exist anymore?
I remember how I wrote to the invitees, and Khun Noo typed the letters for Dr Vitoon Sangsingkeo at ASIN and the Ministry of Public Health to sign. He sent all the letters back saying they needed to be re-written since there were mistakes. I learned a lot from these guys, looking back now.
Things did get easier. I got a work permit, but I remember that you needed a stamp from two places when you left Thailand. We were going on holiday to Nepal. After queuing all morning at one place near Democracy Monument, I remember leaving without the stamp. I knew well there was a limit to what I could do, but not getting this stamp would cause problems, and it did. When I came back, Dr Jumroon was annoyed, saying how could I lose my work permit since I didn't get the stamp before leaving, and he would have to apply for me all over again.
By this time, we had gotten a car. Still, it was only in January 1991, after a holiday, that I came back with a New Year's resolution to drive, and then I drove everywhere. Ian taught me to drive in Bangkok using the side mirrors to watch out for motorbikes along the car side.
Gradually, things settled down, I got licensed as a doctor in Thailand, and after a few years, I came to love Bangkok and feel at home with all the chaos and colour.
Today, I am happily - well, stressfully - running my business, MedConsult Clinic. Ian and I live here in our apartment in Sukhumvit, and we had 2 children who were born and went to school here. They have left for the UK and other places, they visit when they can,
but my husband
is still here with me.